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By Whitney Keith
The Ava High School volleyball program has had lows and highs in its 34 years, but dedicated coaching has made the difference for this sport.
Organized volleyball started at Ava High School in 1976. Former athletic director Larry Silvey said that past annuals show volleyball teams in the 1940s, but they were not Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) approved.
“It’s unclear whether these were club teams, or if there was a league, who played…any of that,” Silvey said.
Starting in 1974, when Silvey became the athletic director, the district began making plans to add volleyball as a sport.
The district first surveyed the student body to see if there was enough interest to add a team.
They had recently hired Judy Bonnett as a girls basketball coach, and she had experience in volleyball.
Once the school had players and a coach, they started to look if there were enough local schools to play against.
“That first year, we played a very limited schedule,” Silvey said. “We didn’t win any games, but that’s not unusual in the first year of a sport.”
Toni (Clinkingbeard) Van Dyne said it was exciting to find that Ava was going to have a volleyball team.
She was a senior that year.
“It seemed to have a lot of support,” Van Dyne said. “It was exciting that Ava had the opportunity to add volleyball.”
Van Dyne played on the team as a setter.
“It was a lot of fun to learn the basics of the sport,” she said. “It was competitive, but we had a good time.”
In 1977, there were enough schools now with volleyball that the South-Central Association conference added it as a sport.
“In 1977 we played a more complete schedule,” Silvey said.
In the first year of SCA play, Ava player Rhonda Turner made the first team, All-SCA team.
Turner was also the school’s first player to go on and play collegiate volleyball, at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Harrison.
Also in 1977, Beth Ewing received an honorable mention in the SCA.
That was the first of three years that Ewing would receive SCA honors.
Four other Ava volleyball players have received SCA honors in three years of their careers – Asher Kyger (2001, 2002, 2003), Mandy Hampton (2003, 2004, 2005) and Kayla Dooms (2007, 2008, 2009).
1977 was the first (and only) winning season for the VolleyBears in their first 12 years of play. That year, the ending record was 9-8.
In 1983, the district added a junior high volleyball program.
“I really think the volleyball program started up after we added the junior high program,” Silvey said.
Peggy Kelly was an Ava graduate, and the school’s first junior high volleyball coach.
The most successful era to that time for the VolleyBears was when Marian Hatten was coach, from 1992-1998.
Hatten was a graduate of Missouri Southern State University, where she was a standout volleyball player.
Ava was her first teaching and coaching assignment. She is now the athletic director and assistant principal at Nixa Middle School.
During her reign, the team placed second in districts and had their best winning percentage in the history of the school in 1994 (record of 16-8).
Brooke (Strong) Melton played on the 1994 team her senior year as an outside hitter and defensive player.
“I remember that we played really well at the Mountain Home tournament, and we always had a hard time playing Salem,” Melton said. “Salem had several girls go on and play college volleyball.”
Melton said that there didn’t seem to be a star player on the roster, but everyone seemed to work well together.
“There were also a lot more girls receiving all SCA honors at that time,” Silvey said.
Later came Liz Kyger, who coached the VolleyBears for 10 years, from 1998-2008.
In 2008 the squad had their highest finish ever in the conference, with a finish of 6-1.
“It’s actually a fluke that we lost it,” Kyger said. “We had beat everyone but Liberty. Mtn. Grove was scheduled to play Liberty, and they had beat them in tournament play just the week before…but they
lost to them, and we lost the conference.”
The highest number of wins from the team came in 2003 and 2004, respectively. In 2003, the team had a record of 19-12, and in 2004 had a record of 19-11.
Former player Kylie (Johnson) Loftin remembered much of the 2004 season.
“Our first away game of the season was at Spokane,” she said. “We hadn’t beat them in something like nine years, and we beat them that night, at their gym.”
She said that squad had a lot of comradery, with a large number of the varsity players having played together since they started high school.
She distinctly remembered their last game of the season, and her high school career.
It was a district match-up between the VolleyBears and Salem, with whom they had a slight rivalry.
“Salem had 24 points, and I was up to serve,” Loftin said. “I kept thinking that if I missed the serve, it would be my last one ever. I didn’t miss it, but we still ended
up losing the game.”
Silvey said that under Kyger and Leonard’s reign, interest in volleyball spiked. At times, the squad had over 30 members.
Ava has had three players go on to play collegiate volleyball. Rhonda Turner (previously mentioned), Tina Cummins and DeAun Gray.
Silvey noted that it was possible that Ava could have had three more collegiate athletes, if things had turned out differently.
“There were the Howard triplets,” Silvey said. “Their dad was a coach, so they only attended Ava one year, their freshman year, before transferring…however, in that one year, Katie Howard made first team all-SCA, Kellie Howard made second team and Kallie Howard made honorable mention.”
Two of the three ended up playing volleyball at College of the Ozarks.
Silvey noted that the volleyball district has always been very competitive.
“Houston, Salem and Mountain Grove all made it to the final four in the 1990s, and West Plains won state on three separate occasions,” he said. “Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a very high quality of play.”
Reflections is a weekly column exploring the history of Douglas County. Current topics include local day trips, school history and Douglas County residents who have a special talent. If you have an idea for an article, please call 417-683-4181 or e-mail email@example.com